Goofs and Gadflies

Friday, April 15, 2005

Emotional Compass and Moral Relativity

I have a question that has been eating at me for a few days (moments really, I am prone to exaggeration). Does music shape our feelings? Or do we choose to listen to music that reflects and echoes our sentiments? Do I listen to Smashing Pumpkins because I am listless, or because I want to attain feelings of listlessness? Do I put on emotions like t-shirts? Or do they emanate from the toxic stew of stress that is my existence? My good friend The Comrade made me a mixed CD that has taken up permanent residence in my car player. Postal Service, Bright Eyes, The Dears, and The Arcade Fire, along with countless other songs that meditate on the directions of life. Here's a little taste of what I have been listening to.

lately i've been wishing i had one desire
something that would make me never want another
something that would make it so that nothing matters
all would be clear then
but i guess i'll have to settle for a for a few brief moments
and watch all dissolve into a single second
and try to write it down into a perfect sonnet
or one foolish line
- Bright Eyes, A perfect sonnet

I think about the compass in my car and how it tells me which direction I am heading in. I think about the compass inside my head and it's not as clear. For the first time in my life I am questioning myself about what I want. Why do I not want anything for myself? Why am I happy? I have stress and anxiety and yet I remain happy. It doesn't make sense. I think I set my standards for what makes me happy too low. Or maybe I was just wired for happiness. I wake up happy every morning. Which is nice, but now I yearn for that compass to kick in and help me find a direction. I need to know what I want. I need to want things, and not fear failing to get these things. I find it ironic that my struggles to find direction should reach an apex while I was visiting the airport today.

Airports are a real interesting place to observe the depth of human emotion. Confusion, relief, desire, indigestion, and most importantly incredulity at having to pay ten dollars for a slice of pizza and a pop. People saying hello and saying goodbye, people lost and people found. Long halls and long haul flights. Lovers languishing in limited moments before liquidity. If you ever need a recalibrating of your emotional compass, try sitting down in an airport lounge and taking your life to task. For some it may take a few minutes. Everything might make sense and you get up and take your luggage and live with it. Some might never leave. The grip of the past can be tenuous and cold. We store memories with the chemistry in our body. That's why the perfume a loved one wore will always stay with us. We store our successes and our failures hidden in our cellular structures. We rely up on our memories to get us through the rough times. I sat in the airport lounge today paralyzed by the decisions that forged my path. Luckily for me my cell phone rang, it was a customer, because I might have been stuck in a parabola of questioning and self-justification. The type of circuitous logic that befalls most raccoons moments before becoming road-kill.

We use our memories to relate to other people. Moral Relativity is something that has been on my mind of late. It's defined thusly:

"The term ‘moral relativism’ is understood in a variety of ways. Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to some group of persons."

I know that I don't dance to the same tune as most people. I don't wreak vengeance upon the dammed. I've been treated pretty well in life and I try and pay it forward when I can. I have to exist with people who are very different than me. They chew on the bitter rind of unfulfilled aspirations and they live on the pain of others. They have given up on trust, and they revel in the pointlessness of life. The giant cosmic joke is on me because I choose to believe in the power of positive thought. There is so much in this world we cannot control. But the one thing we can choose is to take a positive view of any situation. To eschew the conflict and focus on the harmony of life. To sit in that airport, watch the world hustle by as you sit still, with the only movement in your growing shadow. Tremble with the maelstrom of doubt as it thrashes in your head. Then be done with it when the bell (or cell phone) rings. When the fight is over, dust yourself off and smile proudly. I've badly needed to recalibrate my compass and redefine my sense of moral relativity. I was starting to believe in others and their judgments and suggestions. The best piece of advice that anybody has yet to give me is to "believe in yourself".

To end this blog I wanted to share another snip of lyrics from the aforementioned CD. The first song spoke to me about the definition of emotional compass, and this speaks to me about moral relativity. Both lyrics use the word dissolve, and I think that it speaks to the universal truth of the impermanence of life. Changing nature of states, eh?

You think your days are uneventful
And no one ever thinks about you
She goes her own way
She goes her own way
You think your days are ordinary
And no one ever thinks about you
But we're all the same
And she can hardly breathe without you

She says she has no time
For you now
She says she has no time

Think about the lonely people
Then think about the day she found you
Or lie to yourself
And see it all dissolve around you


  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 6:06 AM  

  • Sorry for the delete...needed to make a significant correction...

    "The giant cosmic joke is on me because I choose to believe in the power of positive thought. There is so much in this world we cannot control. But the one thing we can choose is to take a positive view of any situation."

    I think this is a common belief...that thoughts are within our control somehow. I think it's great that you wake up feeling good every day...but I don't know if I would attribute that to positive thought, or if you just lucked out neurochemically and environmentally. It also helps I think that you're a great-looking white male. I just think it's not all a least, not any more so than being short or having parents who are drunks or...

    Hope you don't mind the dissenting comment. I really like your blog.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 6:09 AM  

  • I'm not only greatful that you took the time to read what I wrote, but that it moved you enough to comment. It's not like you are commenting out of your field. You get this brain stuff and you gave me some food for thought.

    You're right in your observations. I have had the benefit of a great family. I'm unremarkable in my appearance. I'm happy, but I have seen the face of sadness and despair in the faces of my friends. I empathize in a profound way and absorb their woes into my collective consciousness. Your comments gave me a sober second thought about my motivations and my relationship to the world. When I think about it, that is *exactly* what I am here for.

    Well, that, and to have sex in the backseat of a Volkswagen.

    By Blogger Rye, At 9:31 AM  

  • Okay, first of all I love you.

    I don't think your happiness standards are too low. You have a child's propensity towards joy, something this world fundamentally lacks and wants desperately to regain. This is the moral relativity you speak of. It's bullshit, darling.

    I believe each person has a musical throughline and trajectory that makes each sound one hears either resonate deliciously or create such disharmonising dissonance that affects us each in a very unique way. Our unique histories and cell structure are like staunch prison guards with this. This is nothing short of alchemical.

    Q: Have you listened because your heart led you or was it the only thing presented to you? I've asked you this before. And this is a metaphor. Sometimes we find music, the food that fuels our souls. Other times that food finds us. It's insistent. We learn to hunger for it. Lately I've taken to saying there are a finite amount of dinners one has in a lifetime. Why would you waste an evening over grisley beef and cheap plunk?

    I made this compilation specifically for you. And the fact that it's made you question so much makes me so happy I could burst.

    It is my honour to be your friend.

    By Blogger Comrade Chicken, At 6:50 PM  

  • You, to whom I owe the very existance of this blog. To the person who believed I could do this and do it with a driving passion. To she who is a comet blasting across the nightsky. What I do here, I do because of my passion for discovery. Which I thought I had lost until I met you.

    Oh, I, owe it all to you, you make me happy. -Paul McCartney to Linda

    By Blogger Rye, At 10:22 AM  

  • First of all, I'm a blog that doesn't suck? Oh, you flatterer. (Not to quibble, but I'm actually three blogs that don't suck. You can also try (which I think you've visited) and, which I recently started contributing to.)

    As to the question at hand, I think of music as "mood slime" for our emotions. While you can see Ghostbusters 2 for the complete explanation, the basic concept is that it can act as mood enhancer, creator or accelerator. Music can drive you to distraction, acceptance, rebellion, anger, depression and any other emotional destination.

    By Anonymous Esther, At 9:26 AM  

  • I have been lurking in Jdaters Anon for quite some time, even back to the days of being an angsty Lj'er.

    Jewlicious? Will have to check it out. Keep me in mind if you need any contributors for things JDate related.

    I've been to your typepad site and I think it is great. As a newbie to blogspot, I'm obviously focusing more on content than deliverance. You've made your site into more than just a blog, it's a portal and a resource. And it's FREE.

    Good on ya.


    By Blogger Rye, At 10:18 AM  

  • The decline of the western imagination can be felt in airports.

    By Blogger Gothamimage, At 12:05 AM  

  • permit me to quote you:
    "I have to exist with people who are very different than me. They chew on the bitter rind of unfulfilled aspirations and they live on the pain of others. They have given up on trust, and they revel in the pointlessness of life"

    Ah.. You could be talking about me there.

    I've always felt that that is what I project to people like yourselves who are so happy to be alive and that you can look at the positive side of things.

    I agree with what Sandy says about being lucked out neurochemically and environmentally. And you ARE are good looking white male. The world is a lot sweeter when you have THAT on your side. Trust me. I look at your guys and all I can think is "at least he doesn't have to shriek in horror in the mornings when he gets ready to do look into that mirror."

    I really wish that looking the positive of things was a CHOICE. Than, I would choose it in a flash. You have to be THOUGHT that by loving and understanding people. When you don't have that.. then you're lucked OUT.

    Thanks for your post. I'll check in from time to time and see what you're up to. And thanks for visiting my blog.

    By Blogger V, At 8:16 AM  

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